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How to Enliven Your Community/Neighborhood with Storytelling
by Chris King

When we know someone’s story, we can’t help but like them. It doesn’t matter what ethnic, cultural, or material differences we have, we all have stories in common. In days gone by, we sat on porches telling and listening to stories. We shared backyard picnics that were enhanced by the stories shared. Today, I don’t see many people telling stories on their porches, which is a shame. But we can enliven our communities and neighborhoods by forming storytelling groups. Here are some suggestions:

Start with your neighborhood association or block club. If you belong to a community group, you can suggest that people who would like to listen to and tell stories come early. I started a successful and interesting group by first asking the president of the local neighborhood association if I could tell a story at one of their meetings before announcing that we would meet to tell stories prior to their next scheduled meeting. I also wrote a short, punchy article for their newsletter inviting everyone. The first evening there was a sparse turnout, but as people started arriving for the meeting, I kept asking them to join us. Soon we were getting more people for the storytelling than the regular meeting, so I suggested to the president of the group that we focus the regular meeting around storytelling. We had a huge turnout, and to sum it up, one woman said, “I didn’t think I would enjoy this, but I had a blast. Let’s do it again.” (note: I suggest setting up the chairs in a circle. I feel that this arrangement is more conducive to friendly interaction.)

Be prepared with a topic and/or topics. It is important to be ready with a universal topic and/or topics. I usually had a topic with a short story that related to and illustrated the topic. For example, around holidays, I would ask the group to tell us about a holiday memory — good or bad. When we got toward the summer months, I asked about vacation stories. And, of course, stories about teachers, pets, first jobs, first loves, and how one settled in this area always elicit interesting stories. When one man who had recently moved from Africa to the United States told about his introduction to New York city by a cab driver, he started the whole group talking and telling stories about challenges they had faced in the “big city.”

Be the cheerleader and encourager. In the beginning many who come for the storytelling don’t want to share a story. They feel that “nothing interesting ever happened to me.” With a bit of encouragement, however, and just asking them a few questions you can get them started. Not everyone will be as eager and captivating as some, but it is important to get participation from everyone, even if only a few words. I found that once people became used to the group and the format, they were happy to take a turn telling a story. The more non-threatening you make the get-together, the more relaxed and more fun it becomes for everyone involved.

You are also the controller. What I mean by this is that in contrast to those who are hesitant to tell, there are those people who, once they get started, they go on, and on, and on or, even worse, get passionate about some political or negative topic and try to take over. In a polite, yet firm manner, you must remind them that everyone needs some time, so we have to set a limit. There are also some who interrupt and talk while others are telling, so again make a gesture with your fingers to your lips to “shh” or quietly ask them to let Mary, or whoever, have the floor.

Take your community storytelling to the next level. After your group of storytellers have been meeting for awhile, it is time to suggest putting on a program for the rest of the community. “We have heard so many great stories here, I think it’s time that we work on polishing the best and most interesting ones. And then, we can plan a community get-together and program where we tell these wonderful stories to others.” The trickiest part of a program is to convince everyone to take part and to have fun in front of an audience. You might start with having people telling in smaller, individual rooms where they would feel more comfortable. You know which stories are the best, and this is where gentle coaching is important. I would also tape the tellings, so you have these neighborhood stories for posterity. Depending upon the group, you might have a small charge for tickets and include snacks and networking after the storytelling so the attendees get a chance to reminisce with their stories.

Just remember that everyone has a story. Make it your mission to get them to tell that story to the people who need to hear it! Do let me know how it works for you. I love getting your FEEDBACK!



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Phone: (440) 918-1313


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